Fish Facts


WHETHER you’re a casual once a year angler or a keen tournament fisho, bream fishing is a popular pastime throughout Australia. What many anglers don’t know, however, is there are around 20 species of bream (genus Acanthopagrus) that occur in the Indo-West Pacific region of the world, and no less than five of these species occur in different parts of Australia.

In the southern states the target species is the black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri, which occurs in southern NSW, Victoria, SA, southern WA and Tasmania. The black bream can grow to around 60cm and 5kg and live for at least 29 years. This species can complete its whole life cycle within estuaries, and indeed, black bream aren’t found along a large stretch of the Great Australian Bight because of the lack of freshwater in this region.

Arguably our most common species of bream is the yellowfin bream Acanthopagrus australis, which is encountered by anglers fishing the estuaries and beaches along the east coast from around Cairns in north Queensland to eastern Victoria. In the past this species was recorded to 65cm long and 5kg, but a big yellowfin bream for anglers today is around half that historical maximum weight. The southern limit of its range overlaps with the black bream, and the two species have indeed been known to hybridise under certain conditions where yellowfin bream become landlocked together with riverine populations of black bream.

As their name suggests, these two species can be distinguished by the colour of their fins – the ventral and anal fins of the yellowfin bream are yellow, but those of the black bream are grey/black.

Further north, a common capture in the tropical estuaries of far north Queensland and the NT is the pikey bream (Acanthopagrus berda). This species differs from the yellowfin bream by having dusky grey fins as well as much stouter dorsal and anal spines. It grows to around 3 kg in weight. The western cousin of the pikey bream is the northwest black bream (Acanthopagrus palmaris). The distribution of A. palmaris extends throughout northern Western Australia from the WA/NT border south to around Geraldton.

Pikey bream and the northwest black bream are very similar in appearance (all grey fins and strong spines), grow to similar sizes and are quite difficult to tell apart except for some differences in their head profiles which aren’t really apparent unless you have both species on hand at the same time. But if you’ve caught a bream without yellow fins in northern WA, chances are you’ve caught a northwest black bream, while if you’re in the NT or north QLD, its most likely a pikey bream.

The final Aussie bream is the recently described western yellowfin bream Acanthopagrus morrisoni. This species, which occurs only in tropical Australia from around Geraldton in WA north thoughout the Kimberley, NT and Gulf of Carpentaria in north Queensland, was previously thought to be another species of bream (Acanthopagrus latus), but recent investigations found A. latus is restricted in distribution to the region of Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. To account for this distinctive species of tropical Aussie yellowfin bream, a new name had to be erected, and A. morrisoni was the result.

This species differs from all other species of Australian bream by having not only yellow pelvic and anal fins, but also a yellowish tail (with a black margin on the trailing edge). The western yellowfin bream also has only three and a half scale rows between the lateral line and the base of the fifth dorsal-fin spine, while the yellowfin bream from the east coast has four to five rows of scales in the same area.

With such a lucky dip of so many different types of bream available, no wonder these species collectively have such a broad following within Australia’s angling community.

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